15 August 2009

Five Times August

For those who don't know, Brad is a friend of mine and a talented independent musician. He has a new project to release that he is currently raising money for. He is very close to his goal but only has one day remaining. Please consider making a donation to help him reach his goal. Thanks!

07 June 2009

Lucky Sevens: Jaromir Jagr

Heather and I are planning a trip in August to Germany, Czech Republic and Poland. We (more she than me at the moment) have been researching that part of Europe recently, and decided to make that this month's Lucky Sevens.

Jaromir Jagr is a hockey player from the Czech Republic. He is best known for his years in Pittsburgh, but he also spent time with the Rangers and a few years here in DC with the Capitals. He currently plays in Russia. Throughout his career, he has worn the number 68, as pictured above in his Czech Republic uniform. Your Lucky Sevens question for June: What is the significance of this number?

07 May 2009

Lucky Sevens: Washington Nationals

It's a good thing I started this Lucky Sevens series two years ago--I can't seem to post any thing else lately.

In order to help us integrate into our new home, Heather and I decided to get a Washington Nationals Sunday Mini-Plan, which gives us tickets to all thirteen Sunday home games. This means that we'll spend roughly every other Sunday afternoon out at Nationals Park, unless it's raining, like it did this past Sunday, postponing the game against the Cardinals. By the way, they still haven't announced a make-up date for that game, but I'm betting it's never made up. Since the Cards aren't scheduled to come to Washington again this season, I suspect they will hold it until the end of the season and only play it if necessary. My only hope is for St Louis to go down to the wire in the Central, requiring them to come back to D.C. and play the hapless Nats.

Recently, the Nationals resigned their best player, keeping him in town for the next five years. Your Lucky Sevens question for May: Can you name the player?

07 April 2009

Lucky Sevens: Cherry Blossoms

Last week marked the arrival of a Washington icon: the blooming of the cherry blossoms. We knew these trees lined the tidal basin near the national mall, but I've been surprised to see the white and pink blossoms all over the city and surrounds. Even our apartment complex is loaded with them.

Of course, these trees are not indigenous to the area. Your Lucky Sevens question for April: Where did these trees come from, and when and how did they get here?

07 March 2009

Lucky Sevens: Taxation Without Representation

As mentioned in last month's Lucky Sevens, the District of Columbia does not have voting representation in Congress. Of course, the debate here is that DC is not a state. Some (normally Republicans) argue that since the Constitution specifies that states will be represented in Congress, DC is excluded. They also occasionally argue that DC's population does not warrant a vote. Others, (mostly Democrats) argue that all Americans should have representation in Congress. Given that DC votes overwhelmingly Democrat (93-7 in the last presidental election), one cannot help but feel that the real conflict here is over the balance of power and a vote.

On Thursday, the Senate passed a bill to settle this, giving DC a vote in the House of Representatives, as well as an additional vote to Utah, which should normally bring a Republican vote to counter DC's likely Democratic one. The bill now moves to the House, where it is expected to pass easily.

Of course, all 50 states currently have representation in Congress. Your Lucky Sevens question for March: Name the states that have a smaller population than the District of Columbia.

24 February 2009

Policy change on Cuba?

Two years ago, I shared my opinion on the failure and injustice of the Cuban embargo. Now it seems that someone in Congress, a Republican no less, agrees. Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) has stated that "the current U.S. policy has many passionate defenders, and their criticism of the Castro regime is justified. Nevertheless, we must recognize the ineffectiveness of our current policy and deal with the Cuban regime in a way that enhances U.S. interests." Thank you, Senator: I couldn't have said it better myself.

Perhaps this will finally lead to an end of the embargo. With the UN again calling for it's end, Obama in the White House, and a leading Republican on board, maybe it is time. There is a lot going on in our country right now: I look forward to the embargo's end being part of that change.

21 February 2009

Australia's National Day of Mourning

You have probably heard about the bushfires in Australia this month, and have probably seen the above picture of the thirsty koala. Bushfires are always a problem in drought-stricken Australia, but this year has been even worse. To date, 209 people have been confirmed dead, to say nothing of the environmental damage.

All of this has prompted the Australian Government to declare February 22 a National Day of Mourning. A service will be held in Melbourne at 10:00am (6:00pm Eastern here) and will be available to watch online at the Brisbane Times website.

07 February 2009

Lucky Sevens: District of Columbia flag

This is the flag of Washington DC. A few years ago, however, there was talk of changing it slightly. Your Lucky Sevens question for February: What change was almost made to the DC flag?

28 January 2009

OZ TV: The Chaser's War on Everything

One of Australia's most controversial, and in my opinion, greatest, TV shows has come to America. The Chaser's War on Everything will premiere on G4 tonight at 9pm Eastern. If you want to see Australia's brand of satirical humour, check it out. It is largely about Australian current events, so some of the references may be lost on you. If so, feel free to post a comment here and I'll be happy to get you up to speed.

Heather and I saw these guys around town every once in a while getting ready for a bit, although I don't think we ever saw them actually in the middle of something. It was always fun to watch and look for familiar locations in the city that they pranked. One that comes to mind is when they attempted to "move" furniture using the city buses. Guess you had to be there.

The picture above, as well as the two videos below, are from their fine work during the APEC meeting in late 2007. The Osama bin Laden stunt got them arrested--Heather and I saw a big crowd, including cameras, around the police station near our flat, but didn't find out until the next day that it was for the Chasers. Given the ultra-tight restrictions that we witnessed, including snipers in helicopters hovering over the city, Heather and I found this segment particularly amusing. It's fair to say that this was the Chasers' finest moment.

Chaser's APEC security measures

Chasers infiltrate APEC security

25 January 2009

Obama and Guantánamo

Last week, President Obama signed an executive order to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility within a year, a quick move signaling that the United States would once again respect human rights concerning the war on terror. While reading "Issue of terrorists' rights to test Obama's pledge" I came across this interesting quotation from John Boehner (R-OH), House GOP leader:

"The Guantánamo Bay prison is filled with the worst of the worst -- terrorists and killers bent on murdering Americans and other friends of freedom around the world. If it is closed, where will they go, will they be brought to the United States and how will they be secured?"

Rep. Boehner is either a remarkably uninformed member of Congress or he is knowlingly lying through his teeth. Of the 775 prisoners who have been held at Guantánamo over the past 7+ years, 420 have been released without charge. Of the roughly 270 currently held, "50 to 70" have been cleared for release, but cannot be returned to their home country for fear of punishment (Reynolds). Clearly, Gitmo is not "filled with the worst of the worst" and it would be refreshing if Republican leaders would stop parroting Rumsfeld's tired lie.

In spite of this, Boehner does raise an important point: where do the freed prisoners go? I feel Obama's executive order is lacking in this area. The United States continues to deny any innocent detainees settlement in the United States. How can we expect our allies around the world to help with this process if we do not take some of them as well? What is wrong with taking seventeen Uighurs, a nomadic people from Western China, who ended up in Guantánamo because they were sold for bounty by Pakistanis (Mariner)? They have been cleared for release for nearly five years but remain in Gitmo because they cannot be safely returned to China and no one else, including the U.S., will take them in. The case of the Uighurs, and many others like them, is an injustice and a human rights violation.

Also, Obama's order does not end the military commissions that conduct the trials of the charged detainees in a manner that denies them due process, but instead calls for a study into the feasibility of moving the trials to the federal system. In seven years of operation, only three people have been convicted by the military commissions at Guantánamo: David Hicks, an Australian who joined the Taliban; Salim Hamdan, Bin Laden's driver; and Ali al-Bahlul, who made a video. All in all, these are three very low-ranking, low risk terrorists. On the other hand, you have the infamous Zacarias Moussaoui, one of the designers of 9/11, and Richard Reid, the "shoe-bomber". Both were convicted in Federal courts, not Guantánamo (Sullivan).

I was glad to see that Obama quickly followed through on his campaign promise to close Guantánamo, but his order was incomplete. Obama's declaration of last week was a good first step, but there is still further to go if the United States is going to take its place once again as a champion of human rights and justice in the world.

21 January 2009

Masters degree conferred--now with merit!

What began as a dream is now official: I am a Master of Development Studies with merit. It may bear a stronger resemblance to a business letter than a diploma, but I'll take it. Behind this mere piece of paper is a year and a half of my life, and hopefully my future, in the form of the following:

There were too many choices and only eight slots, but I'm satisfied with my selections. If nothing else, I have a foundation for further study. It was a challenging course of study, both academically and intellectually. Many of my world view assumptions were challenged, many altered, others reinforced, but all were strengthened with information, logic and reasoning.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned is that I have a lot more to learn.